Formulaic metadiscursive signalling devices in judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union

A new corpus-based model for studying discourse relations of texts.


  • Karen McAuliffe School of Law, University of Birmingham, UK
  • Aleksandar Trklja Department of Linguistics



Law and Language, corpus linguistics, European Court of Justice, Court of Justice of the European Union, ECJ, CJEU, judgments, legal corpora, metadiscursive lexical items, signalling devices, text organisation, legal reasoning


This paper investigates how paragraph initial metadiscursive lexical items serve as signalling devices in text organisation of judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ).  The results of that investigation demonstrate that those metadiscursive items both shape a particular method of reasoning used by the ECJ, and have an impact on how readers process those texts.


Based on assumptions grounded in linguistics/legal linguistics that legal language is formulaic and repetitive in nature, the paper focuses on the use of repetitive items in ECJ judgments that perform metadiscursive rather than legal functions.  Such items play a crucial role in the presentation of reasoning in judgments by signalling when and how various types of information occur in a discourse.  The paper builds on established work in the field of linguistics that claims that legal reasoning can be understood from the utterances used in a text (Crystal and Davy, 1969), but importantly also considers the context in which judgments of the ECJ are produced and applied.  Demonstrating the impact of language patterns on the legal reasoning of the ECJ is an inherently interdisciplinary exercise that involves the exploration of the cognitive dimension of the process.  Thus, this paper contextualises the findings of the linguistic analysis carried out within the unique multilingual setting of the ECJ, using Koestler’s theory of creativity and cognitive theories of text processing as the basis of analysis.


The analysis leads to the conclusion that not only do language patterns found in ECJ judgments shape the method of reasoning used by that Court, but also that those judgments are made up of ‘almost wholly automised’ sub-codes of grammar and syntax. This conclusion supports claims made in law and language studies and among EU law practitioners that ECJ judgments are created in a ‘lego-building block’ fashion.  The linguistic research carried out here can thus be used to triangulate results of research from other fields to allow a more holistic understanding of supranational adjudication in the EU context to be developed.  This in turn can offer new ways for understanding how a multilingual legal order functions, as well as allowing researchers to work towards limiting inconsistencies arising in such a legal order.


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How to Cite

McAuliffe, K., & Trklja, A. (2019). Formulaic metadiscursive signalling devices in judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union: A new corpus-based model for studying discourse relations of texts. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 26(1), 21–55.